Do you have an innate need to help people in every aspect of your life? Do you seek out new ways to give back? Have you been dreaming of taking your compassion to a global level? Then you are just like me. Now, I’m here to give you a plan, a plan to turn your dream into a mission trip abroad. Just like I did.
Of course it is easier to jump on the bandwagon of a mission trip that is planned from start to finish but what if you are never given that opportunity? Or the cost is too much? Or the time frame doesn’t work with your schedule? Or maybe it is just not the type of mission trip you want to do. That’s when you step up, step in, and plan one of your own. So here’s how you do it…
Step 1. Find your passion
No one goes out of their comfort zone on a mission trip for a cause they are not passionate about. So what do you love? What kind of services can you offer people in need? For me it was healthcare but there are so many other options out there for mission trips. I am a nursing student who is especially passionate about maternal, infant and child health on a global level so I used that burning passion and my skills and took it to Guatemala on a medical mission trip. What do you love?
Step 2: Find a program that matches your passion and recruit the troops
Once you have a list of possible organizations that match your ideal trip that’s when the ball really starts to roll.
Do extensive research and look for an organization that is transparent about where your money goes. I spent weeks communicating with various organizations and IVHQ provided me with the best service and feedback. Their communication was quick and they were thorough about answering my questions.
I found that having a proper breakdown of the budget made it easier to sell the idea to my peers. No one is willing to drop a good chunk of money with no real understanding of where it is going. IVHQ gave me clear budgets for the three locations I was interested in and the two different time frames we were considering along with other options of excursions we could add on to our cost. Transparency is key when planning a mission trip.
Find people who share the same passion as you and have always had an interest to go on a mission trip. My situation was a bit easier because I was able to recruit from my nursing program. Obviously we share a passion for healthcare but it was picking out my peers that shared the passion to go global. I knew I was going to do this mission trip with or without anyone but of course I wanted to share the experience. In addition, having a certain number of people for my medical mission trip allowed for a medical campaign with IVHQ so it became important to meet my 8-person minimum. Be thorough in explaining the information, be honest, and share your passion- people will be inspired by it.
Step 3: Select a location
When deciding where you want to go you may have to think outside your bucket list. It’s important to consider where your mission work will be most needed and whether the destination and program fit with your group’s motivations to volunteer abroad.
In addition, you must think of the practicality of the place you want to go. Your flight is not included in your mission trip cost, so proximity and flight costs are definitely things to consider. The sooner you book the better but regardless of that, location still determines your overall price.
For instance, for practicality reasons flying from Florida we decided to look towards Central and South America. That narrowed us down to three places we could volunteer: Peru, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. I took a vote and Costa Rica blew it out of the water. Why? Because it’s a place people know and often travel to. But we soon found that as a destination Costa Rica didn’t fit with our motivations for volunteering and doing a medical mission. So that brought it down to two. In the end we chose to volunteer on a medical mission in Guatemala because flights were half the cost. I am so glad it worked out that way because Guatemala was never on my radar to visit and it turned out to be one of the most beautiful and powerful adventures I have had, and I plan to return because there is so much that I still want to see and do in Guatemala. Everything happens for a reason. Go where it is practical for you and I promise you will be amazed.
Step 4: Set your budget higher than what you are quoted
This is important especially if you are planning to lead a group. Some people live on tight budgets and last minute $50 costs could be significant for them. I rounded up when I quoted my group the price for the entire trip and I am sure glad I did. I told everyone to set their fundraising goal higher than what we needed because any extra money could be used for medical supplies. No matter what life always throws curveballs, so you should attempt to build that into your budget. Expecting to pay more and realistically spending less is always better than not having saved enough.
Step 5: Start fundraising
Fundraising is a great way to get friends, family, and your community involved. To be honest I did not reach my fundraising goal but some of my friends did. Even if you don’t reach your goal it is great to let people know what you’re doing and about the organization. Setting up social media accounts to keep friends and family aware of your progress is an awesome way to make people feel involved. Look for a site that doesn’t take a percentage of what you raise, or make sure it’s a minimal fee. Also, give people the opportunity to give you money directly via check or cash to bypass them taking that percentage but make sure you keep your fundraising transparent. People are donating their money to your cause so you want to be able to show them exactly where it’s going. Use Pinterest, or these fundraising ideas.
Step 6: Collect supplies
Some people feel weird about giving money because of the uncertainty of where the money goes. I found it worthwhile to give them another option to get involved. To make sure you are collecting medical supplies that are beneficial for the community that you will be working with, talk to your Program Manager who can connect you with the in-country team.
In the case of medical supplies there are some items you can purchase in country, which also helps stimulate the economy, but there are also supplies that are easier to bring with you - it all depends where you are volunteering. Being able to communicate with the local team is vital to make sure your donations or supplies are allocated in a responsibly.
Step 7: Contact local media
Contacting local media is an awesome way to get your fundraising efforts out there and offers an opportunity to get the wider community involved. We had a quick segment on the news which didn’t particularly generate a lot of revenue or supplies, but it did generate support. Now that we have gone we hope our trip next year will initiate a bigger response.
Step 8: Research the culture
Every culture is different and it is important to be culturally informed to not only relate to the people but protect yourself. Look up some important phrases in the local language. Research appropriate clothing. Understand what can be interpreted as offensive in their culture. Be mindful of what is normal for them that may be different in your country and culture. Explore their local cuisine as they may be your most readily available meals and it’s always good to know what a few things on the menu are. There’s a worldwide web out there with countless information be sure to find reliable sources and read up. This is also a great time to get your group excited about the destination you are headed to - share information with each other and look up a few sights you’d like to see in your free time.
Step 9: Keep an open mind and an open heart
Setting expectations can be dangerous. I can say that my medical mission to Guatemala easily exceeded my expectations but I could never have pictured what my time there would be like. I was sure to keep an open mind and just take everything in - and let me tell you, doing that meant it changed my life. I am three months post trip and I think of my time there every day. I am currently planning my next trip because I long to be back in the communities with the families and children of Guatemala. My heart was open and filled with an endless love for the culture and the people. I promise you if you open your mind and your heart you will give yourself the opportunity to have a life changing experience.
If you didn’t know going on a mission trip is not just about work. Enjoy the culture and life around you. Eat the local food. Dance the local dance. Meet new people. Shop at local markets. Just live. There is nothing like living a life outside your norm and experiencing the love of a different culture. Don’t take a moment for granted. Be present and make the most of your experience because it will shape you and the way you practice healthcare.
To learn more about our where you can volunteer with IVHQ on your own medical mission, visit the destinations page.